Friday, April 29, 2011

Blast from the Past #364: Unfinished drawings

Here are a group of unfinished drawings, all done on similarly-sized pieces of Bristol board -- and I can't remember why I drew them. They are most likely from the late 1970's or early 1980's. There is a clue to the "why" of one of them -- in the drawing in the lower lefthand corner, there is a handwritten caption reading "The student Anselmus sees the snakes in the elder tree…" I believe this is a reference to a character in E.T.A. Hoffman's "The Golden Pot", a book I read and liked after hearing it read on the "Reading Aloud" program on NPR, which I often used to listen to as I drew.

There is something about the sizes of these things that makes me think I had a plan to use them for some project, but for the life or me, I can't recall what it might have been. (I hate that.) -- PL

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blast from the Past #363: weird skull

I can't recall why or exactly when I drew this, but I suspect it was in the early 1980's. I'm not a master of skulls like my friend Eric Talbot, but I think this one came out okay. -- PL

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blast from the Past #361: Hobbit and dwarves and trolls

Last week, I was excited to watch Peter Jackson's first "video diary" from the set of the first of the two "Hobbit" movies that the "Lord of the Rings" director is finally shooting in New Zealand. I look forward to the finished films.

In honor of the beginning of the filming of this long-awaited adaptation of a beloved book, I dug up this old drawing -- I think it is from the late 1970's or early 1980's. I am not completely sure WHY I drew this, other than that I am a big fan of Tolkein's book.

I'm also not sure why I left it unfinished... seems to me like it's almost all there, and I would just need to put in some spot blacks and maybe a little shading.

In any event, fans of "The Hobbit" should be able to tell what scene this is meant to illustrate. -- PL

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trip to Manchester, VT

Yesterday, Jeannine and I met some friends (old friends for her, new friends for me) at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT. The Northshire is perhaps our favorite bookstore -- I highly recommend it to anyone who loves books (and good food -- they have a very nice cafe). And Manchester is kind of a neat little town -- a slightly odd but charming combination of historic places (perhaps the most prominent being "Hildene", the estate of one of Abraham Lincoln's sons), and modern outlet stores. There is also the beautiful Mount Equinox, the top of which can be reached by an automobile access road (just be sure to take the advice of the signs posted on the access road, and stop halfway down for a few minutes to let your brakes cool down -- the last time we took that trip, I didn't do it, and my car's brake discs -- or probably more likely the brake pads -- were smoking when we got to the bottom).

On this visit to the Northshire Bookstore, I knew Jeannine would be occupied with writing in the bookstore's cafe for several hours, so I decided I would try to see if there were any interesting places to bicycle in the surrounding area. And at, I found the Delaware and Hudson Rail Trail, a 22.3 mile trail near  the New York border. A rough estimate from looking at the map indicated that it was probably between 10 and 20 miles from Manchester, so that certainly seemed within the realm of practicality and scheduling.

So I hauled a couple of bikes along with us in my truck (just in case one of the friends wanted to join me) and while Jeannine was sipping coffee and turning words into art, I drove over the mountains toward West Rupert, VT, where one of the parking areas for the rail trail was supposed to be found. It was interesting to see that there was still quite a bit of snow up in those hills. Fortunately, none of it remained down at rail trail altitude.

I found the parking spot with no problem, got out my bike, and headed south. I was a little disappointed at first that the trail was not paved (I have gotten a little spoiled, I guess, by the plethora of paved rail trails in our area), but the cinder path surface was actually not bad to ride on… a little bumpy and ragged in spots, but nothing I wouldn't ride on again. 

To the right of the trail, a small river meandered in and out of the fields and trees.

I only rode for out forty-five minutes, given that there was rain predicted, but in that short time I decided that I need to come back to this trail when the weather is nicer and the greenery which gave the "Green Mountain State" that name is out in profusion -- it should be quite beautiful.

Near where I decided to turn around, I saw this view in the small river which followed the trail most of the way:

There's something about that blue green color of turbulent water in the rivers around here… I find it mesmerizing.

I saw no other bicyclists on the path, and only one other person, a man walking his dogs. On the drive back to Manchester, I stopped in a small town called Dorset, because I saw something that caught my eye -- right next to the road, huge blocks of marble and what appeared at first to be a pond surrounded by marble blocks.

But, in fact, it was something else, something illuminated by this sign:


Oldest Quarry in U.S. 1785

Here, near Mt. Aeolus, Isaac Underhill opened the first marble quarry in 1785. Dorset quarries were most active in early 1800's when small slabs were used for hearths, doorsills and headstones. With better transportation and saw, larger blocks were quarried."

It was odd -- but cool -- that this marble quarry would be literally just a few feet off of a main road in this part of Vermont. I parked the truck and got out to take some photos. 

Here's a small panoramic view of the quarry -- you can see the road, Route 30, I believe, on the right hand side.

I really liked the look of this stack of marble blocks.

I walked to the quarry's edge and stared down into the water… and wondered exactly how deep it was. I felt an irrational pull (easily resisted, I hasten to add) to dive in. As I stood there, I couldn't help thinking of the "… lovely, dark, and deep…" phrase from Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" poem.

This shot I like for the rippling reflections, and the "marble lagoon" look of the place…

 I would have taken even more, and spent more time wandering around there and checking out all the interesting stacks and heaps of gargantuan marble blocks and slabs, but for the fact that there didn't seem to be any LEGAL parking spots near the quarry, which was more than a little odd, given that it was a public attraction. 

I continued on back to Manchester, joined Jeannine to say farewell to our friends (one of whom, a four year-old girl, drew a nifty turtle -- not a ninja turtle -- 

...for me before she left with her parents), and then headed home. On the way out of Manchester and heading toward Bennington, we debated what to do for dinner -- should we continue south on Route 7, the way we'd driven up to Manchester, and stop in Williamstown to eat at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Deperados… or take Route 9 east out of Bennington, and head towards Brattleboro, where we could pick up some yummy deli items at the Vermont Deli, another of our favorite food spots? We opted for the latter.

I wish we had taken our own advice -- just after turning onto Route 9, we were musing that it would probably be a good idea to call the Vermont Deli to make sure that they would be open when we got there. They WOULD have been open -- we got there around 5:30 and their posted hours said they closed at 7 -- but THAT day, of all days, they were closed for "Spring Cleaning"! 

Oh well… "the best laid meal plans" and all that. Even so, it was a fun day. -- PL

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Paint and Pixel Festival

Yesterday wasn't the most promising of days for bicycle riding -- kind of chilly, with predictions of serious rain. But I went out anyway, on my favorite bike, leaving from the MIrage offices and heading out to see if my favorite loop was free from flooding.

First, though, I had a stop to make -- at the "Paint and Pixel Festival" put on by "Runners" artist Sean Wang and his wife, Peggy (although, according to Sean, Peggy was the person most responsible for organizing the event). It was being held in the Old School Commons in the center of Northampton, and many local artists were going to be there, including some of my Mirage pals -- Mike Dooney, Jim Lawson, and Dan Berger. Here's a photo of Dan and his wife Jess (Jim Lawson was sitting at the table to their left, but I guess he'd stepped out at that moment).

Mike Dooney was set up right behind Dan, and next to mecha artist Dave White.

And here's a reverse view of that scene...

I got there about an hour after the event had begun, and it looked to me like it was already a success. The modest-sized exhibitor's hall was busy, with lots of people wandering around talking to the various artists and looking at the wide range of small press comics, books, prints, posters, and original art that those artists had for sale. Here are a few random photos of the hall and various exhibitors. 

I tried to get photos which could be stitched into panoramic shots, but there were enough people moving around that I was only able to do this one.

Overall, the show kind of reminded me of a few of the small comics conventions I'd been to years ago -- it had that friendly vibe, but without all the tables full of old comics. If I am invited to the next one, I will very likely go.

Here's a shot of Peggy and Sean near Sean's table, with his "Runners" comics.

I chatted for a few minutes with local illustrator and writer Diane De Groat, shown here explaining to me her technique of combining Photoshop and traditional painting techniques in her charming picture book "Dogs Don't Brush Their Teeth".

One of the people I wanted to talk to was Howard Cruse -- he's the guy in this photograph with the glasses and t-shirt -- whose "Stuck Rubber Baby" book I really admire. But I forgot to stop at his table! D'oh! At least I got this photo.

After hanging out at the "Paint and Pixel Festival" for about half an hour, I took off again on my bicycle, but sadly didn't get far -- Pynchon Meadow Road was flooded, as you can see in this little panorama:

I put red dots in the middle so you can see where I SHOULD have been able to ride through, had the river on the right side of this image not overflowed its banks. Hopefully, the water will go down soon and the way will once again be clear (and dry).

I didn't get much of a ride that day, but enough to satisfy me. And I did take the opportunity afforded by a more open schedule (one without a longer bike ride) to go back to the "Paint and Pixel Festival", this time to bring a couple of boxes of cookies from the Normand Bakery in Northampton (for the exhibiting artists). I had a specific goal in mind for this second visit (besides delivering sweets) -- I wanted to see if I could talk to the painter and children's book illustrator Ruth Sanderson, who was actually working on one of her paintings at the show, a new cover for a twentieth anniversary edition of her "Twelve Dancing Princesses" picture book.

And I did have a nice chat with her, and got a closeup look at her work on this new painting. She is REALLY good. "Mike Dooney good", one might say. (Which I consider to be a compliment to BOTH of them.)

Although I only experienced a small slice of the whole inaugural "Paint and Pixel Festival", I think it is safe to say that Peggy and Sean should be congratulated for putting together a really nice show. I hope it continues. - PL

Friday, April 8, 2011

Making the connection: Michelle Kwasney and Lyme Disease

Last summer, I started following Jeannine's example when we walked the dogs through the tall grass and weeds in our field -- I would spray insect repellent on my feet and legs, as well as my exposed arms and face and neck. This was specifically to -- as much as possible -- keep ticks from latching onto us, and possibly infecting us with Lyme disease. That's about as far as I went in thinking about it -- if asked, I would probably have said something like "Lyme disease… yeah, that's the thing spread by ticks, right? Isn't there a shot for that or something?"

It wasn't until just now that I made the connection between that habit and the travails of a new friend, Michelle Kwasney. MIchelle is actually a good friend of Jeannine's, and, like Jeannine, a writer as well (though she was originally intending to be an illustrator). I only recently met Michelle through Jeannine, and have slowly been getting to know her better.

One of the reasons it is happening slowly is that Michelle has Lyme Disease, and has suffered with it for the last couple of years. I had no idea, before I started hearing about it from her, exactly how debilitating it is… and how difficult to get rid of once one is infected. It has altered her life in almost every way. She faces chronic pain and difficulty with her memory. She walks with the aid of a cane. She no longer teaches art, doesn't leave her house very often, and can't drive. It has slowed her writing pace and led to a host of other difficulties. And though she sees some incremental improvements as the weeks and months pass, she doesn't know if she'll ever get completely better.

I am still learning about this stuff, but one thing which seems to be evident even to me at this point is that more attention needs to be given to Lyme disease -- or, perhaps more to the point, to those who have it and whose lives are altered, often irretrievably, by its effects on body and mind. Physicians need to know more about it, how to diagnose it properly and promptly, and then how to treat it in the most effective way possible. And everyone needs to know more about how to try to avoid getting it in the first place.

This past week I saw a notice on Michelle's Facebook page ( about something called "Lace Up for Lyme" -- a Lyme Disease Awareness Walk, an event intended to promote greater public awareness of Lyme and its devastating consequences for those afflicted with it. I asked Michelle if it was okay for me to post this information on my blog, and also if she would  be okay with my talking about her and her battle with Lyme, and she gave me the go-ahead. 

This page ( is a petition to get the news out about Lyme Disease.

And this one ( gives more information about the "Lace Up for Lyme" walk event.

I would be remiss if I did not end this post with at least one positive note -- if spirit and strength of will have any salubrious effects on one's health, then MIchelle is well-positioned to reclaim her former wellness. Although I have only known her a short time, it's clear to me that she has a sizeable reservoir of those qualities. -- PL

P.S. The graphic at the top of this post is the cover of Michelle's most recently-published novel, "Blue Plate Special". Here are the covers to her other two novels -- "Itch"…

… and "Baby Blue". 

You can click on the titles or the covers to be taken to their respective pages on, if you are interested in buying the books, or just learning more about them. -- PL

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

And even more fruit salad!

Just got done making this week's batch, and today I added a new ingredient -- "Cara Cara" oranges. I saw them at Whole Foods yesterday, and they looked intriguing... even more so when sliced into wedges. What a great color!

(And they taste as good as they look!)

I tried to take some photos of the finished fruit salad so that I could use PanoramaMaker to put together a nice closeup panorama (is that an oxymoron?), but for some reason, it didn't work. I kept getting really weird distorted and mangled images. Finally I gave up and threw one together in Photoshop -- it's far from perfect, but it does give you an idea of what the finished product looks like. -- PL

Friday, April 1, 2011

More snow… and fruit salad

Well, it looks like I spoke too soon. Spring DID seem right around the corner, but last night it started snowing -- the beginning of what the weather people were calling a "nor'easter" -- and this morning, the lawn which yesterday had been not green, really -- more like a mottled melange of greens and browns and yellows -- but certainly not white -- is once again covered with the frozen fluff.

I'm not sure if the activity I am about to describe is some kind of mental survival mechanism that I have established for myself to help combat late winter feelings of depression, but I do know that it has been a lot of fun.

The activity I am referring to is the making of fruit salads.

I've always loved fruit salads -- good ones, anyway -- and the last few months I have been making a large one every week, on average. And they are pretty big -- filling most of Jeannine's largest stainless steel mixing bowl, which measures sixteen inches across at the top and five and a half inches deep.

It's really too much for the two of us to eat before it goes bad, and I know that… but I keep making these big fruit salads. I think part of it is the sheer pleasure I get from seeing this enormous mound of sliced and chopped fruits, all those lovely colors and glistening, tasty bits.

So rather than waste the extra fruit salad, I have been packing the excess into snap-lock top containers and bringing them around to various friends and family members. It's fun to do, and I get to see and talk to some people I ordinarily wouldn't see very much. And they all seem to enjoy eating the fruit salad.

What follows is a group of photographs showing the stages of one of these fruit salads I made last week. I didn't have any raspberries or blueberries for this one, and those are usually favorite ingredients of mine. But it turned out pretty well anyway, I think.

First up: kiwis. I love these things, though I hate peeling them. I did discover a few weeks ago a little trick -- I reversed the order in which I prepped them. Previously, I would peel the whole fruit, except for the inedible ends, which I would later cut off before slicing up the kiwis to put in the salad. Now I cut off those ends first, and it makes the peeling go much easier, for some reason.

Second ingredient: mangoes. Another of my favorites fruits, though I still don't know how to pick the really good ones -- the ones which have creamy, orange-yellow insides, with few if any fibers running through the flesh. At least on this occasion they were of good quality.

Third are Shingo pears, from Korea -- very juicy and crunchy, but without much in the way of real flavor.

Fourth came the apples -- this time, two varieties: Granny Smith and Fugi. It is at this stage that I use a trick I found out about some years ago to keep the exposed peeled and sliced apple pieces from browning. I slice a lemon in half, and squeeze it over the apples. I also do the same with a lime -- I like the zingy citrus flavor both fruits add.

Fifth step was cantaloupe.

Sixth in line was pineapple, made easier by the pineapple slicer/corer I first used about six years ago, I think. It's ridiculously fast and easy to use, and turns what was once a dreary chore into something you can do in a couple of minutes.

Seventh -- more cantaloupe!

Eighth, I added some red plums. These are not available all through the year here in Massachusetts, so when they do start showing up at the local grocery store, I make sure to get some.

Ninth was oranges. I discovered a few months ago that a good way to add these wonderful pieces is to cut the oranges in half, then slice out -- with two shallow cuts -- the pithy cores from each half, and then slice each half into about five wedges. The next step is to turn each wedge upside down, and use a smaller sharp knife to slice the fruit loose, just inside the rind. It takes some time, but the upside is that you get very juicy pieces of orange, and I think they go great in fruit salad.

Tenth -- and final, for this particular salad -- ingredient was strawberries.

Then comes one of my favorite parts -- mixing it up, so all the contrasting colors, textures and shapes come together.

(Of course, my real favorite part is EATING it!)

And here is the result, ready to be distributed.

Well, at least the two on the top -- the one on the bottom was for us. -- PL